Lafayette to Shreveport
Interstate 49 was first proposed by Governor John McKeithen as the tolled North-South Expressway in 1965.32 AASHTO approved the initial route of I-49 between I-20 in Shreveport and U.S. 190 at Opelousas on July 6, 1977. Work commenced on I-49 in Louisiana in April 1980, and the first portion opened was a six mile segment from U.S. 190 east of Opelousas in September 1983.32 An 18 mile section of I-49 was dedicated on October 13, 1987 within Natchitoches Parish between LA 174 and LA 6.33 That was followed by the completion on March 1, 1989 of a nine mile link in DeSoto Parish, from LA 175 to LA 509.33 Another 35 miles debuted to travelers between Washington and Meeker on May 15, 1989, a few weeks beyond the planned April 22nd opening.34
Work progressed with the opening of another 30 miles of Interstate 49 on November 22, 1989. This section included 18 miles from LA 174 to U.S. 84 in DeSoto Parish and 12 miles from Fierson to LA 526 (Industrial Loop) on the south side of Shreveport.35 Another 7.3 miles of I-49 opened around Boyce to the north of Alexandria on September 26, 1991.36 A movement during that time period shifted the alignment of I-49 from a bypass of Alexandria to a route through Downtown at the urging of merchants, civic leaders and political officials who feared economic losses for the city had it been bypassed. This pushed back the timetable for completion of the 4.5 mile segment through Alexandria to 1996.36 The section through Alexandria was eventually designated the Martin Luther King, Jr. Highway.
Additional stretches of the Interstate 49 in Louisiana were dedicated by Governor Edwin Edwards on May 14, 1992 at the U.S. 167 interchange south of Alexandria. The ceremony preceded the opening of a 20 mile section of I-49 between Alexandria and Meeker, and a four mile segment from England Drive to Rapides Station. The 201 miles opened at the time totaled $598 million in costs.37
The 208 mile long section of I-49 between Interstate 10 and I-20 in Louisiana was completed on May 1, 1996 at a cost of approximately $1.38 billion. I-49 was constructed with federal funds, some of which were redirected from unconstructed urban Interstates within Louisiana, and the rest (153 miles) originated from a “supplemental reserve.” At the time, I-49 was the longest Interstate to begin and end within the same state.10
Louisiana: Interstate 49 South
Interstate 49 through Lafayette received initial approval on January 8, 2003 by the Federal Highway Administration. The motion allowed for funding to commence on the planned five mile, $350 million viaduct between Interstate 10 and Lafayette Regional Airport (LFT). Not all residents sided with this progress, as many near the projected path of the freeway feared impacts to developed and mostly poor neighborhoods nearby. In related opposition, legal action was pursued to move the project eastward into Saint Martin Parish. However, planners contended that the project complied with all applicable laws, and it appeared very unlikely that the highway would be relocated from the original planned route.2
A Congressional group met in 2003 at New Orleans International Airport (MSY) to discuss the estimated $4.9 billion corridor and funding related issues. Representative Tom Pitre of Wisconsin indicated that the House was drafting a $375 billion, six year proposal that would allocate Louisiana $4.28 billion to help pay for Interstate 49 within the state. Considered for I-49 in Louisiana was the creation of a 36 mile portion of freeway between Shreveport and the Arkansas state line, and the upgrade of U.S. 90 between Lafayette and New Orleans to Interstate standards. Total costs within Louisiana were estimated to be $2.3 billion, with the state covering 20% of the expense.3
A number of projects upgraded U.S. 90 to freeway standards in Iberia and Lafayette Parishes. These included a $24.5 million interchange at LA 25 opened in January 2011. An upgrade of U.S. 90, from Pinhook Road to Broussard, was completed in October 2012 at a cost of $20 million. Frontage roads were constructed along the US highway between LA 675 and LA 88 at a cost of $21.4 million. These were completed in January and June 2011 respectively. Additional frontage roads were added to U.S. 90 from LA 83 to Darnell Road ($5.4 million and finished in February 2012), from Darnell Road to LA 85 ($5.8 million and finished in April 2014) and at Captain Cade Road ($1.4 million and complete in August 2012).
Louisiana: Interstate 49 North
The final section of I-49 North opened to traffic at Interstate 220 on October 17, 2018. Photo by J.P. Nasiatka (05/31/19).
Separated into 11 segments, construction of Interstate 49 North cost $670 million overall to build:28
- A – LA 168 to the Arkansas line
- B – Parish Road 16 (Mira-Myrtis Road) to LA 168
- C – LA 2 to Parish Road 16 (Mira-Myrtis Road)
- D – U.S. 71 (south of Hosston) to LA 2
- E – LA 170 to U.S. 71 (south of Hosston)
- F – LA 530 to LA 170
- G – LA 169 to LA 530
- H – LA 173 to LA 169
- I – LA 1 to LA 173
- J – LA 3194 (Dr. Martin Luther King Drive) to LA 1
- K – Interstate 220 to LA 3194 (Dr. Martin Luther King Drive)
Groundbreaking for the first phase (Segment B) of the Interstate 49 North corridor took place north of Mira at the intersection of Parish Road 16 and Parish Road 25 on Thursday, April 7, 2005.8 This section of I-49 was estimated to cost $385 million.9 Work continued in 2007 on I-49 at the state line, where crews completed earth moving on a 6.6 mile long section.
State money was secured to bridge the 20% funding gap needed for I-49 North, allowing the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LaDOTD) to work on seven of 11 proposed freeway segments between Interstate 220 and the state border. Optimistic officials at the time pursued opening the new 6.6 mile section of future Interstate 49 in 2010, if not 2009.9
LADOTD later anticipated having most of Interstate 49 North, from LA 1 (Segment I) to LA 168 south of the Arkansas state line (Segment A), open and signed as I-49 by November 2013.25 This included a temporary end at LA 168 that awaited completion of the Arkansas section from Highway 549 southward, which was projected for May 2014. Widening of LA 168 east from Future I-49 to U.S. 71 was proposed to augment the connection to Arkansas until the freeways were seamlessly linked. The gap between LA 168 and U.S. 71 north of Kiblah, Arkansas opened to traffic after a ribbon cutting ceremony held by officials from both states on the morning of November 10, 2014.28
Segment K, linking I-49 at LA 1 near Blanchard with Interstate 220 at North Shreveport, included the construction of a new systems interchange one mile west of the the exchange joining I-220 with U.S. 71/LA 1.1 Segment K went to bid in December 2013, two years later than expected due to funding issues for the $70-100 million project.22,24 Construction was estimated for completion in 2017-18.25
Totaling $142 million in costs, the interchange joining I-49 North with Interstate 220 opened to traffic following a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Governor John Bel Edwards, state and local officials on October 17, 2018. Associated work for Segments J and K1 completed the I-49 link from LA 3194 to I-220 and reconstructed LA 3194 (Martin Luther King Drive). Construction also included expanding I-220 between LA 173 (Hilry Huckaby III Avenue) and U.S. 71 (N Market Street). Decorative panels by Shreveport area artists were added to several of the flyover support columns at I-49/220.48
Interstate 49 in southwest Arkansas overtook the Highway 549 freeway between Exit 4 (U.S. 71) near Doddridge and U.S. 59/71 north of McKinney Bayou and Texarkana, as well as Future I-130 along Highway 245. The first segment, from Fouke to Texarkana, was completed on December 16, 2004.7 The remainder south to Louisiana opened on November 10, 2014.
Work in Texarkana focused on upgrading the freeway along AR 245 to Interstate standards from the interchange with AR 549, southeast of Texarkana, to Arkansas Boulevard, where I-49 branches northeast to Interstate 30 along a new alignment. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on April 30, 2013 for the 10.6 mile segment of new I-49 between Arkansas Boulevard and the Texas state line north of Texarkana. Wet weather delayed opening of the roadway to May 15.23
Costs to complete the 136 miles of I-49 between Texarkana and Fort Smith were estimated at $4.1 billion by Arkansas Highway Commissioner Keith Gibson as of March 2022, though there was no funding for construction at that time.52 The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) previously completed an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for Future I-49 between AR 22 and I-40. This was approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in 1997.53 Work commenced in 2010 on a section of AR 549 between County Route 8 and AR 22 in the Fort Smith / Fort Chaffee area. 2.7 miles of roadway embankment, two overpasses and four box culverts for the new freeway were completed in Fall 2011.19 Additional work on the Chaffee Crossing section of I-49 added an interchange at AR 22 (Rogers Avenue) and diamond interchanges at Massard Road and Roberts Boulevard as part of the overall $57.65 million, seven mile stretch of freeway. The contract involving construction of 0.635 miles of roadway and the new interchange with U.S. 71 at the south end was let May 2, 2012.21 This work concluded on July 14, 2015.30 See a set of photos from the ribbon cutting ceremony held that day at David Backlin’s Flickr page.
Leading north from Fort Smith to the Bella Vista bypass, Interstate 540 (built as AR 540) was redesignated as I-49 per approval by AASHTO on October 21, 2013. A 30 day project to resign I-540/U.S. 71 as I-49, between I-40 and U.S. 71 Business south of Bella Vista, kicked off on April 21, 2014. Signs on other future sections of I-49, including the Bella Vista Bypass and the stretch between U.S. 71 and AR 22 were signed as both Future I-49 and AR 549.26
What was previously designated as AR 540 was initially submitted to AASHTO for inclusion in the Interstate Highway System as Interstate 49 from I-40 near Fort Smith north to U.S. 71 Business near Fayetteville. This request was denied by AASHTO on April 25, 1997, as the Route Numbering Committee indicated that the lack of connecting routes at the northern end would preclude the route from consideration at that time. AASHTO subsequently approved it as Interstate 540 on November 14, 1997.
Expected to cost $150.6 million,27 the Bella Vista Bypass was planned to be constructed as a toll road. Tolling was approved by the Arkansas State Highway Commission on April 12, 2006.11 A construction contract for the 3.03 mile section of the Bella Vista Bypass was let in February 2011 with ground breaking on July 8, 2011. This work covered a stretch of roadway between AR 72 west of Hiwasse and AR 72 southeast of Hiwasse.20 Work on the $19.8 million contract wrapped up on April 22, 2014.27
Looking north at the temporary end of AR 549 (Bella Vista Bypass) north at CR 34 in Benton County, Arkansas. Photo by David Backlin (07/25/15).
A second Bella Vista Bypass project, building 2.377 miles of two lane roadway leading north from the interchange with AR 72 west of Hiwasse to County Road 34, was let May 2, 2012. Work on this section ran through July 2015. The third segment extended AR 549 east from AR 72 to U.S. 71 Business in Bella Vista. The 6.36 mile long portion was built at a cost of $52.6 million.31 It was completed in May 2017.49
State officials announced the start of construction for the final section of the Bella Vista Bypass at a ground breaking ceremony held on October 15, 2019. Costing $35.52 million, the 2.4 mile stretch extended north to the Missouri state line. The section opened to traffic on October 1, 2021. The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) also announced the start of work on a $66.59 million project converting the roundabout joining AR 549 with U.S. 71 in Bentonville into a single point interchange. The new exchange was completed in mid 2021.50
Since replaced by a SPUI, the Belle Vista Bypass previously tied into U.S. 71B just west of I-49 and Exit 93 at a roundabout. 11/02/16
Partially funded with a $25 million federal grant the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission received in December 2018,50 work on the 4.81 mile section of the Bella Vista Bypass in Missouri commenced in Spring 2020. Attended by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a ribbon cutting ceremony took place for the new highway on September 30, 2021.51 Totaling $70.3 million in costs, the construction contract for the I-49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector was awarded in Spring 2020 and overall work completed on September 30, 2021. This included building an interchange with Route 90 west of Jane.
A toll road was considered for I-49 from the Bella Vista Bypass in Arkansas north to Pineville,3 but subsequently dropped. The right of way was acquired and plans were completed for the five mile section by 2008. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) was awaiting completion of the Arkansas section to move forward,29 and eventually allocated funding for its portion in the 2013-17 Draft STIP.
The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approved the estimated $47.8 million in costs and the timeline to complete the final five miles of the Interstate 49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector on March 6, 2019. $25 million in prior funding for the Bella Vista Bypass via a Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant was secured by U.S. House members from Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas in December 2018.44
With partial funding from the federal grant the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission received in December 2018,50 work on the 4.81 mile section of the Bella Vista Bypass in Missouri commenced in Spring 2020. Attended by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a ribbon cutting ceremony took place for the new highway on September 30, 2021.51 Totaling $70.3 million in costs, the construction contract for the I-49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector was awarded in Spring 2020 and overall work completed on September 30, 2021. This included building an interchange with Route 90 west of Jane.
The AASHTO Highways Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbering meeting of October 14, 2011 approved the I-49 designation in Missouri contingent on the route being fully upgraded to Interstate standards between Pineville and Kansas City. Additionally business route designations for U.S. 71 at Butler, Joplin, Neosho and Nevada were given conditional approval for renumbering as Business Loops for I-49.
MoDOT approved highway construction on August 4, 2010 on a number of projects to upgrade U.S. 71 between Joplin and Kansas City to Interstate standards in anticipation of redesignating the highway to I-49 by December 2012.3 Four interchanges were completed at a cost between $4 and 5 million along U.S. 71 by September 2010. These included those at Route 126, Routes DD/EE and Routes V/C within Barton County, and Route 52 in Bates County.13 An interchange between U.S. 71 and Route E, north of Milo, opened to traffic on November 18, 2011.14 Work on an interchange between U.S. 71 and Route TT, midway between Horton and Rich Hill, commenced in late January 2012 at a cost of $6.4 million with a planned completion by December 2012.15 Further north, work continued with the opening of the overpass for 327th Street on August 9, 2012 near Archie. This bridge eliminated an at-grade crossing, and was the first of three projects to upgrade U.S. 71 to limited access standards locally. A diamond interchange with 307th Street and an overpass for 283rd Street opened later in 2012.18
A contract to erect signs with space allocated for Interstate 49 was let in October 2011 for the eventual planned signing of the route statewide in December 2012. Installing around 1,200 signs for I-49, the project commenced on February 1, 2012 at a cost of $3.5 million. That work was projected for completion by December 1, 2012.16 Interstate 49 was made official in Missouri on December 12, 2012 in a ceremony held at Joplin East Middle School at noon. The designation applied to 180 miles of U.S. 71 between Kansas City and Joplin.
Bruce R. Watkins Drive – Kansas City
The first of two parkway sections along U.S. 71 (Bruce R. Watkins Drive) northbound through Kansas City, Missouri. 11/03/16
Within Kansas City, U.S. 71 follows a combination of freeway and parkway from the Three Trails Crossing Memorial Highway interchange with I-49, I-435 and I-470 north to the Alphabet Loop (I-70 and I-670) at Downtown Kansas City. Known as Bruce R. Watkins Drive and historically as the South Midtown Freeway, the limited access highway for U.S. 71 was constructed for nearly $300 million in phases from 1987 to October 2001.6
Origins of the roadway date back to the “Expressways – Greater Kansas City” document issued by the city in 1951. State engineers presented two alignments for the eventual route in 1964. The South Midtown Freeway roughly followed the current alignment of Bruce Watkins Drive while the Country Club Freeway aligned south to 47th Street, west to Charlotte Street and Frank A. Theis Park and south along Brookside Boulevard before curving back to the east.6
Community opposition arose by February 1965, with a focus on potential disruptions to neighborhood areas along the South Midtown Freeway route to the east. As many as 10,000 residents would be displaced with the freeway project, and with the state highway commission voting to move ahead with land acquisition from Bannister Road north to 63rd Street, area neighborhoods declined. Earthwork started in 1972, but a federal lawsuit filed in 1973 halted work, citing violations of civil rights, environmental and relocation rules. Three quarters of the right of way was already purchased by 1976 while the lawsuit dragged on until 1985. City, state and federal officials eventually compromised on a new design for U.S. 71 in 1982. The redesign called for a hybrid of freeway and parkway sections meant to minimize disruptions to area neighborhoods. The roadway was named after Bruce R. Watkins, a local civic leader and one time city councilman in 1986, six years after his death.6
The two parkway sections include signalized intersections at Gregory Boulevard, 59th and 55th Streets and several right in and right out movements. Thousands of bushes and trees, attractive landscaping and decorative bridges were incorporated into the route as part of the court decision in 1985.6 With the parkway design, it is unlikely that Bruce Watkins Drive will ever be incorporated into Interstate 49.